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High Season vs. Low Season: Some Pros & Cons

With its fabled weather balmy all year, Jamaica is more and more a year-round destination. Nevertheless, it has a distinct high season running roughly from mid-December through mid-April. Hotels charge their highest prices during this peak winter period, when visitors fleeing cold north winds crowd the island. (We've quoted each hotel's rack rates throughout this guide, but you don't have to pay that much, even in high season, if you book a package instead of calling the hotel directly.)

Reservations should be made 2 to 3 months in advance for trips during the winter. At certain hotels, think about booking a year ahead for Christmas holidays or February.

The off season in Jamaica (roughly mid-Apr to mid-Dec) amounts to a summer sale. In most cases, hotel rates are slashed a startling 20% to 60%. Some package-tour charges are as much as 20% lower, and individual excursion airfares are reduced from 5% to 10%. In addition, airline seats and hotel rooms are much easier to come by. It's a bonanza for cost-conscious travelers, especially families.

Off-Season Advantages -- Although Jamaica may appear inviting in the winter to those who live in northern climates, we suggest many reasons why your trip may be much more enjoyable if you go in the off season:

  • A less-hurried way of life prevails. You'll have a better chance to appreciate food, culture, and customs.
  • Swimming pools and beaches are less crowded -- perhaps not crowded at all.
  • Year-round resort facilities are offered, often at reduced rates, which may include snorkeling, boating, and scuba diving.
  • To survive, resort boutiques often feature summer sales, hoping to clear excess merchandise.
  • You can often appear without a reservation at a top restaurant in, say, Montego Bay and get a table.
  • The endless waiting game is over: no waiting for a rented car, tee time, or tennis court.
  • Some package-tour fares are as much as 20% lower, and individual excursion fares are also reduced between 5% and 10%.
  • Accommodations and flights are easier to book.
  • Finally, the very best of Jamaica attractions remain undiminished in the off season -- sea, sand, and surf, with lots of sunshine.

Off-Season Disadvantages -- Let's not paint too rosy a picture, though. Although the advantages of off-season travel outweigh the disadvantages, summer travel has its drawbacks:

  • You might be staying at a construction site. Jamaican hoteliers save their serious repairs and their major renovations until the off season.
  • Services are often reduced.
  • Not all restaurants and bars will be fully operational at resorts.
  • Hotels and resorts may be operating with reduced staff.

Avoiding Spring Break -- Throughout March and into mid-April, it's spring-break season in the Caribbean for vacationing college and high school students. Expect beach parties, sports events, and musical entertainment; if the idea of hundreds of partying fraternity kids doesn't appeal to you, beware. When you make your reservations, ask if your hotel is planning to host any big groups of kids.

Climate

Jamaica has one of the most varied climates of any Caribbean island. Along the seashore, where most visitors congregate, the island is air-conditioned by northeasterly trade winds, and temperature variations are surprisingly slight. Coastal readings average between 22°C (71°F) and 31°C (88°F) year-round. The Jamaican winter is similar to May in the United States or northern Europe; there can be chilly times in the early morning or at night. Winter is generally the driest season, but can be wet in mountain areas; expect showers, especially in northeastern Jamaica.

Inland, temperatures decrease by approximately .55°C for every 91m (about 1°F for every 300-ft.) increase in elevation.

Rainfall is heaviest along the eastern edge of the island's North Coast, with Port Antonio receiving the most intense downpours. The island has two rainy seasons: May, and October through November.

The Hurricane Season -- The curse of Jamaican weather, the hurricane season, officially lasts from June 1 to November 30 -- but there's no need for panic. Satellite weather forecasts generally give adequate warning so that precautions can be taken. If you're heading to Jamaica during the hurricane season, you can call your local branch of the National Weather Service (listed in your phone directory under the U.S. Department of Commerce) for a weather forecast.

Another easy way to receive the weather forecast in the city you plan to visit is by contacting the information service associated with the Weather Channel. On the Internet you can check www.weather.com to get the forecasts.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.